Science Fiction Though the Decades

Monday, April 30, 2012

1981: Kinship of the White Bird 2 - A Dream of Kinship (Cowper, Richard)

Future history without connections to the past (3/5)

A Dream of Kinship is the sequel to the book The Road to Corlay, the two being the first two parts of the Kinship of The Whitebird trilogy. Cowper wrote a clever little novel with The Road to Corlay, which had two parallel plots: one in 1970 A.D. with researchers into time travel and another in 3000 A.D. with villagers fostering a budding religious cult around a gift lute player. Without the addition of the time traveler, Michael Carver, the novel could stand alone as a period piece from the year 1450, if it didn't happen to be actually be set in the year 3000. My interest in the series is linked to these two parallel plots. At the end of The Road to Corlay, the two never really came together to make any "a-ha!" sense. I was hoping for a revelation in A Dream of Kinship (and god... what an awful cover!).

Rear cover synopsis:
"They came to destroy! The treacherous Falcons, uniformed in the black leather tunics of the fanatic Secular Arm, descended on Corlay to burn and kill. Commanded by Lord Constant, ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, they were determined to crush the religious heresy of Kinship. But a new dream rose from the ashes... When four Kinsmen escaped the carnage of their beloved land, each helped to fulfill the miracle that had been foretold: the coming of the Child of the Bride of Time would user in a New Age. For it was he who would claim the secrets of the stars... whose powers would drive him into battle with the dangerous Lord Constant... whose great courage would forge a new destiny on the wings of... The White Bird of Kinship."

Opening in the year 3019 A.D. in the town of Corlay, the Magpie has traveled to meet Jane, who is carrying the child of the martyr Thomas. Over in the archipelago of the Seven Kingdoms of what used to be England, Lord Constant and his Christian cohorts are scheming on ways to either undermine the Kinship or destroy the foundation of the pagan cult. The military branch of the church, the Falcons, who have a reputation for cold-blooded murder, are sent to Corlay to halt the spread of the Kinship and frighten the queen away from announcing her kingdom a Kinsmen haven. While Corlay is being set afire and its people pierced by arrows, the Magpie and the birthing Jane have escaped to the woods.

After the birth of the Child of the Bride of Time (the son of Thomas and Jane, who is also named Thomas), the plot jumps to the year 3038 A.D. where Thomas is in training to be a Kinsman with his friend David. His lute skills are already legendary under the tutelage of the wanderer Marwys, whose arrival to the village was "huesh-ed" by Jane. Thomas also "huesh-es" his meeting with a girl in the sea, a girl who will become drawn to him and unfortunately also draw him into treacherous regal affairs of the Kingdom.

The gruesome suspected poisoning of Lord Marshal Richard has Thomas, David, the Kinsman Healer Anthony, and his Protégé David concerned for anyone with strained ties with the Kingdom. The suspects Duke Philip and Lord Peter are eyed as the most likely to gain from the death of Richard. How this affair will affect the kingdom and Kinship isn't known, but Thomas knows that heavy-handed Christian church is intolerant of the Kinship and has the urge to spread the word.

Where The Road to Corlay was listed as "science fantasy," A Dream of Kinship is oddly labeled "science fiction"--oddly because the 1970 timeline plot is absent from this novel. Michael Carver is mentioned a few times, but the characters never make the time traveling connection and regard the Carver being as a visiting entity once experienced but now vanished. Taking place during the fourth millennium, there is no exploration of the major English landmarks, no derelict buildings, no skeletons of rusting aircraft or oil tankers--no physical connection with the past. This temporal detachment from its own history bestows a physical detachment from the same world; it's not a believable future history because of this. However, Cowper does write in some history of the Drowning:

"[...] the actual physical causes of the catastrophe had never been contested--the massive build-up of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere leading to drastic modification of the planetary albedo with consequent melting of the polar icecaps" (125)

Cowper also added more about the role the Church played in Europe's rising from the catastrophe of the Drowning:

"For hundreds of years the Secular Arm had both upheld and symbolized the supremacy of the Church throughout the Kingdoms of he west. It had become synonymous with political stability, with the fixed order of human affairs, with degree, with authority, and with fear. Above all with fear. Its historical roots lay back in the decades of turbulent anarchy which followed the Drowning, when by faith, self-discipline, and dedication to a noble ideal the Church Militant had gradually achieved its aim of imposing order upon chaos. [...] Printing, publishing, and all forms of technical innovation had been decreed Church prerogative, infringement of which was to be punished by death. Scholarship, other than that permitted within the strict confines of Orthodoxy, had virtually ceased to exist." (114)

This is a moderately intriguing future history, but the disconnection with our modern world displaces the plot to one of fantasy rather than science fiction. If some relics were exhumed, so monuments visited, or some artifacts commonplace, then the connection between the modern world and the future history of 3038 A.D. could be made real and, hence, placed into the genre of science fiction. The only connection presented are the names of countries which are under the rule of the Church of of the Kinship persuasion: Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, and America. One promising note at the end of A Dream of Kinship is the onset of a voyage to the said countries.

Aside from the disappointing displacement of time, A Dream of Kinship has just too many minor characters with lords, dukes, Kinsmen, bishops, cardinals, brothers, sisters, princes, fathers, mothers, and maids. Besides having names and titles, there's very little to actually distinguish the slew of them part from one another. Just behind the massive front of the lead characters of Thomas, Alice, Witch, Richard, David, the Magpie, Alison, and Francis lay an entire slough of a barely supporting cast--very muddled.

As I peer at the pleasant cover of the third book, A Tapestry of Time, I have two feelings: one heady sense of adventure and the other a loathing. Where Book 1 was "science fantasy" and Book 2 "science fiction," Book 3 is clearly labeled as "fantasy." If this is the case, then my desire to see the 1970 Michael Carver link may be one of trite hope to be burned off by the temporally awkward future history of 3038 A.D. Book Three had better beings its A-game!

1978: Kinship of the White Bird 1 - The Road to Corlay (Cowper, Richard)

Olde English quaintness ala Connie Willis (4/5)
From August 24, 2011

Richard Cowper is well known for... well, nothing really. I happened to pick up his novel Profundis one year ago. I found his writing to be witty, charming, and well-educated. I took a shot at reading The Road to Corlay because of these characteristics in Cowper's writing. Taking one look at the cover of my edition (Pocket, 1979), it looks like a fantasy novel through-and-through. But on the rear cover of the book, an antenna can be seen in the prow of the boat. An odd addition, but my expectations remained aloft even though fantasy isn't my forte.

Rear cover synopsis:
"On the Eve of the Fourth Millennium a slowly-building civilization, struggling out of the rubble of the Drowning, was crushed beneath the scepter of a powerful and repressive Church. But on the Eve of the Fourth Millennium the sound of a magical pipe was heard, and the air was filled with songs of freedom and enlightenment. And on the Eve of the Fourth Millennium the Boy appeared, bringing the gift of sacrilege, a harbinger of the future, heralding the arrival of the White Bird of Dawning. It is the coming of a New Age... A glorious future bearing the presents of the past!"

The 239-page book begins with a 62-page prologue called "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" which is actually a short story by itself and is included in some editions of The Road to Corlay. A quarter of the book brings the reader up to speed about the history of the region where the novel is set: around the Bristol, Southampton, and Exeter region of south England. However, the time of the plot is set around the year 3000 after the earth had been flooded, so the bucolic landlocked English setting is actually a bucolic seaside setting. The prologue/short story is a mini-saga of a man who is a minstrel of sorts and a boy with a lute (ah, but no ordinary lute, you see). With this lute, the boy is able to charm animals (salmon jump to him and dogs cower in obedience) but can also be made to sooth the minds of humans. This special trait becomes known to the wider Kingdom and his following is called heresy by Falconry Church. Their death is demanded.

After the prologue ends, the reader witnesses the aftermath of the decree one decade later (≈ 3010 A.D.), where the boy's lute-fingering has become legendary and now a following called the Kinship of the White Bird is wide-spread but still secret. From this point on, two stories emerge: one involving a man found at sea and his recuperation at a family's cottage where a young woman possesses the gift of mind-reading and clairvoyance (which is called the huesh). The second story is set around 1970 during an experiment in which Michael Carver falls into coma but still exhibits mental patterns of social interaction. This observation infers that he has made contact with another mind in the future. Like Connie Willis's Doomsday Book where a physical person travels BACK in time, in The Road to Corlay the mentality of a person is transposed into someone in the FUTURE... both highlighting the quaint English countryside.

So yes, for the most part this novel contains very un-SF-like elements. For a seasoned SF reader like myself, the inclusion of mind-reading, Middle English language, and kinships are irking. Cowper keeps in lively with a grand search for the heretics, quests for artifacts, and the appearance of new characters always adding extra dimension to the plot. The climax and conclusion of both story lines were somewhat solemn but still radiated a sense of completion.

Little did I know that there are two sequels to The Road to Corlay: (2) A Dream of Kinship and (3) A Tapestry of Time. Hopefully, if I'm able to get my paws on these, a link between the two plot lines would become clearer and a more resolute conclusion could be made. For something different and intelligent, The Road to Corlay is notable even for an astute SF connoisseur such as myself.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

1998: Mind Changer (White, James)

Psychological emergency under the new administration (4/5)

Mind Changer is the eleventh of twelve Sector General books and continues to take the focus off of Conway, a character who really ceased to be engaging after the first few books. Mind Changer shifts its limelight to the history of O'Mara, who was once a space construction worker, but after much personal experience with psychology, albeit without proper training, he was taken on as a psychologist. In this novel, we learn more about how O'Hara came to be and how he has affected the station since taking his posts.

Rear cover synopsis:
"It's where human and alien medicine meet: a massive hospital space station on the Galactic Rim, with 384 levels and a multispecies staff of thousands.
In the course of practicing deep-space medicine, that staff has seen more than its share of challenges--from plagues caused by cafeteria food, to cafeteria food that resembles alien species. But now they face a disquieting new development: the terrifying Chief Psychologist, Dr. O'Mara, has been promoted to head of the hospital.
Worse, he's been given the job on a temporary basis, for just as long as it takes to train his own replacement. After that, he is up for mandatory retirement. Nobody at Sector General can begin to imagine what they'll do without him--assuming they last long enough to find out."

Major O'Mara is notified by Colonel Skempton, the hospital's Monitor Corps administrator, that he will be transferring to a new post and that O'Mara must temporarily fill his shoes before retiring. Prior to his retirement while acting as hospital administrator, O'Mara must select the most qualified person--human or alien--who is both qualified medically and psychologically. His three person team gets his his first attention: human assistant Braithwaite, the Tarlan ex-surgeon Padre Lioren, and the forner warrior-surgeon Cha Thrat. Besides these prospective applicants, O'Mara must interview some other possibilities.

Winding back the clock a bit, O'Mara's personal history with Sector General is reviewed quite thoroughly. He first showed psychological promise back during the construction of the hospital when Major Craythorne took O'Mara under his wing. Once he had some time put in and promotion was imminent, the only logical choice to be inducted into the Monitor Corps, and with that the title of lieutenant. At a time when using mind tapes was a budding science, O'Mara illegally downloaded one tape into himself so as to better understand the psychological problems of a surgeon with the same tape.

From there on, O'Mara always had the tape in his head, with the secret medical knowledge and intimate life experiences of a promising young female Kelgian DBLF doctor. The honesty imparted to him by the mind tape has him viewed as blunt, rude, and nasty but overall loved by the staff for his noble Kelgian-like quality. However, his personal experience in love is blank and find himself unable to emotionally engage other humans, while taking shelter in the psychology of other aliens.

Progressing decades through his trials and errors, secret deeds and deeds, O'Mara witnesses the promising DBDG human medical students Conway and Murchison. Later, when acting as hospital administrator, O'Mara must ride out a telepathic storm brought on by an injured alien. How the problem is solved isn't as important as how soon it can be accomplished before the entire station turns mad by the infectious negative thoughts of the victim. This will be the impetus by which O'Mara selects the next fully qualified hospital administrator.

Rather than a medical emergency or a medical mystery, Mind Changer, as you would expect from the title and the focus on the character O'Mara, deals with psychology. At first, we witness O'Mara adapting to the multi-species alien environment, how we subsumes the Kelgian mind tape, and how he reluctantly falls in love with a DBDG female. Besides O'Mara's own psychological growth, he mentally dissects the administrator applicants and some of the problem patients within the hospital. This exhibits his sympathetic understanding of the needs for the patients and the desire to cure a troubled mind.

The most interesting part of the book in when O'Mara is trying to find himself during a mandatory vacation aboard a starliner cruise. The experiences he has aboard the ship will pave the way for his emotional and professional growth when he returns to Sector General. Thereafter, he takes his annual leave to someplace secret, which, as its revealed in the end, characterizes him even more so and tells volumes about his behavior at Sector General. And though O'Mara is a modest, well-spoken, yet shy man, the tongue-in-cheek sexual innuendos pens around the circumstances O'Mara finds himself in is hilarious:
Hesitating at first but soon getting into the rhythm, she joined O'Mara in blowing hard, sucking, and spitting out. Only once did she stop to look at him and wipe her lips with the back of her hand.
"Yuk," she said with feeling. "That stuff smells and tastes awful! Are you sure I'm blowing and sucking at the right body orifice?"
"Trust me," said O'Mara. (149)
The sexual innuendo passages aren't always that blatant, but I sure had a chuckle. In this scene, the two are giving CPR to an elephantine Tralthan but the unfolding of the dialog above was an unexpected witticism thrown in by White. I don't remember reading such sexual tension or oddly worded sentences in other White books (other than Major Operation), but I like this side of the, otherwise, dryly written books of White.

The non-linear storyline in Mind Changer is the one additional change in this White novel which sets it apart from the other very linear books in the same series. I've only read half of the entire Sector General series, and terrible out of order at that, but aside from Final Diagnosis (Sector General Book #10), this is the best in the series.

1971: Major Operation (White, James)

Conway vs. Meatball: surprises galore (3/5)
From August 10, 2011

Major Operation is a Sector General novel (the third of twelve) comprised of five novelettes: "Invader" (1966), "Vertigo" (1968), "Blood Brother" (1969), "Meatball" (1969), and the self-titled "Major Operation" (1971). This is the fourth Sector General book I've read and while the whole alien emergency scenario gets a little old, James White still pulls a few surprises to entice the reader. These surprises are just enough to pull the reader through the sometimes predictable jungle of medical emergencies littered throughout the pages. This is especially true in Major Operation, where a planetary mystery evolves into a medical mystery and back.

Rear cover synopsis:
"Star Surgeon Conway, Nurse Murchison, and the doctors of Sector General were used to big problems and wonderfully strange patients--yet even tentacled Chalders, elephantine Tralthans and the spidery empath Dr. Prilicla were baffled.
The denizens of the weird planet included wheelshaped rolling sentients without hearts, leechlike healers without brains, and vast carpets of withering flesh. One of the species had invented a quasi-living tool that could change galactic medicine... if only Conway and his staff could find it.
He knew that to solve the mystery he would need all the alien talents of Sector General's interstellar staff to mount an unparalleled major operation."

Invader - 4/5 - Some curious incidents involving surgical mistakes and miscounted tools have led Conway to investigate a few theories. These theories are only that and Chief Psychologist O'Hara thinks Conway may be creating mass hysteria. His investigation uncovers a scout ship which has recently returned in a damaged condition from a planet called Meatball. Through Conway's persistence, a unique and rather useful life form has emerged on the ship. 40 pages

Vertigo - 4/5 - A research team is dispatched to the orbit of Meatball, where they witness an orbit craft freshly launched. The team attempt to stop the craft's rotation but the occupant emotes panic and resumes it's gyrations. Requiring much engineering and some brainstorming, the team figure out how to snare the craft and allow it to dock in the research ship. 27 pages

Blood Brother - 3/5 - Conway attempts to upload the memories of the rotating alien but finds the experience too extreme, even though he has subsumed alien memories before. To understand the dire stress of the planet Meatball and to observe the strictly solitary lives of the aliens, a culture contact team will go planet-side, including Conway. Once down, things never go quite as planned and Conway is attacked and yet saved by the same entity in the sea below. 35 pages

Meatball - 3/5 - Once the study of the exotic doctor organism found on the seafloor is at a satisfactory conclusion, a pathology team, including the pulchritudinous DBDG Murchison, take a trip down to the surface to try to understand the giant massive animal/vegetable being which sprawls across the surface of the planet Meatball, which is now known as Drambo since communication with the wheelie-alien had been successful, if not a tad bit annoying. 33 pages

Major Operation - 4/5 - The pathology team, assisted by military-cum-surgeons and miners-cum-surgeons, attempt surgery on an epic scale on the densely layered carpet of life on the face of the planet. Every attempt to help the entity is met with resistance since it lacks the senses of sight, hearing, taste and smell. The doctor-like organisms help those who emote friendliness but attack those with ill-will. The military and medical staff must find a fast solution to cease the human loss and save the life of the patient. 48 pages

For those used to the Sector General series, you won't be perturbed by the casual mentioning of DBDG, SRJH, TLTU or ELNT descriptions of alien life forms or the recurrent cafeteria theme and the usual difficulty Conway has on finding an appropriate seat and an appropriate meal. Many of the same characters make their appearance (especially Conway, Murchison and O'Hara while Thornnaster and Prilicla take on supporting roles). There seems to be a generous amount of tongue-in-cheek humor and some restrained sexual tension between the married couple and even in the general words written by White. Curious.

For the new reader of James White, this is great introduction novel. For the more weathered White reader, it has the same-old, same-old feel as all the other Sector General novels. Unique science fiction but just so-so for James White.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

1970: In Our Hands, the Stars (Harrison, Harry)

Simple Linear plot with espionage and predictability (3/5)

I admit I haven't read either of Harrison's most popular series of The Stainless Steel Rat or Deathworld and that I desperately need to get a hold of a copy of each sometime. While I wait to stumble upon dog-earred copies of both, I bide my time by fingering through some of his lesser known work. Harrison's plague from space novel, The Jupiter Legacy (1970), was simple but entertaining. One of his short story collections, Prime Number (1970), was equally as short and entertaining (the 1978 and 1987 Sphere editions with some excellent art work). The same description can also label this novel (alternatively titled The Daleth Effect).

Rear cover synopsis:
"The Daleth Effect: It started in a small way when a test bench disintegrated. Within weeks it produced a power that could life man to the stars. And within months it was the centre of a desperate power struggle--with Earth as the prize."

Israeli atmospheric tests reveal to Artie Klein that there are gravimetric anomalies during a chance solar flare. He investigated the phenomena to a greater degree and found a "wholly inexplicable force operating that seemingly reduced the probe's weight, but not its mass." (50) He assigned the Hebrew letter "Daleth" to the force and applied his mathematics in the lab to produce the Daleth Effect. However, his first successful test run also blew a hole in the wall of his laboratory.

Immediately realizing all implications for this technology, Artie finds his consciousness and flees Israel because he suspects the government would apply his invention to wartime activities rather than peacetime activities. Once in his birth country of Denmark, Artie unveils his modulated sort of energy to the Ove Rasmussen, the Nobel Prize winner for physics and local professor, who helps Artie apply his technology with the help of Captain Nils, a jet-setting SAS commercial airline pilot with a wife, but a playboy lifestyle.

Unwilling the share the Daleth Effect with either the American or Soviet embassies, a double agent gets wind of the gravity defying tests and shares the secret with both sides. At first, the rumor of a submarine landing on a moon to rescue stranded cosmonauts seemed ridiculous, but later sightings of levitating ships confirms the truth about the science. Artie struggles to keep his technology for peaceful Dutch commercial interests, but both sides of the Iron Curtain reconnoiter to benefit militarily.

As a science fiction lover, it surprises me that I kind of dislike the wondrous discovery of a easily applicable science which can send man to the stars. The Daleth Effect is easily attached to any metal hull and, instantly, the craft (be it a submarine, barge, or hovercraft) can repel gravity and hurl itself off the earth. This sort of cop-out is done with earlier science fiction like E.E. "Doc" Smith's The Skylark of Space (1928) and James Blish's Earthman, Come Home (1955). I guess I prefer to experience the research of the technology rather than just having it handed to me in the first chapter.

Like the previous Harrison books I've read, this was light reading with a straight forward linear plot with random burst of humor dotted within the twenty-five chapters. Harrison's skill with dialog outshines his lacking capacity to pen narrative passages with a "sense of wonder", therefore, most of the novel is composed of plot maneuvering dialog and verbal announcements of the character's emotions. Everything is as transparent as it can get, which leads me to believe it might have been aimed for a younger audience.

It's not bad. It's just overly simple with touches of betrayal to one's country and one's spouse, a little bit of second guessing, and a pinch of excitement for the conclusion. Ah, the conclusion! I thought the ending would have been as straight forward as the rest of the book, but the last 15 pages of the 217 page novel threw me for a bit of a loop. Good unexpected conclusion!

Besides Deathworld and Stainless Steel Rat listed above, I plan to procure some of this other works such as Make Room! Make Room! and his collections don't sound too bad either. Harrison doesn't even make the list for my top 20 science fiction authors, but he's still one pursue.

1970: The Jupiter Legacy (Harrison, Harry)

Fast-paced plague no-brainer (3/5)
From July 22, 2011

I only know the works of Harry Harrison through reputation, one could say, and through his fairly flat collection in Prime Number. Some say his novels are fun or youthful, which strikes me as another way of saying that he doesn't take a plot all that seriously. Jupiter Legacy (also irksomely published as Plague from Space and The Jupiter Plague) is exactly as I thought it would be: a plot based on one man, a big problem with no regard to either the start or end of the novel. So, in this regard the novel could be said to have met my expectation and therefore give it 5-stars. And yet I was hoping for my preconceptions to be false and was met with a fairly cardboard-like novel, easily read in a few days without giving much thought to it.

Rear cover synopsis:
"The space probe returned carrying a cargo of writhing death! No form of life on Earth seemed safe from the savage epidemic brought back from a distant planet. Quickly and mysteriously it spread over the earth's surface, drawing its victims into a slow and violent death. If Earth was to escape annihilation, the horrible plague had to be stopped! But there was so little left to track down the cause of the Jupiter Legacy!"

The line where it says, "Quickly and mysteriously it spread over the earth's surface, drawing its victims into a slow and violent death" is as faulty as the wiring in my condo. The plague was limited to New York and the area of New England rather than the entire earth's surface and the plague killed its victim rather quickly, within the day... nothing so slow or violent about a fever and some boils.

One thing Harrison has down to an art (mmm, that's a bit of a stretch) is plot flow. It starts with a bang when Sam, our intern doctor and to-be heartthrob is raced to an accident involving a dismemberment and being raced back to the hospital to be warned of a pending danger of unknown proportions at the airport... which is where the behemoth spaceship has returned to Earth while crushing one plane and burning another to a cinder. Sam observes the astronaut descend from the ship and fall. Caring for him, Sam sees blisters around his face and neck with a fever of 105. Knowing he's near death, Sam and his love-interest-to-be (of course) give the man a notepad where he write something like "sick in ship." I considered this a key in understanding WHAT was inside the ship and was especially interested when the police closed the ship off. In the end, the message played no importance and it was all fairly predictable.

For some added flavor, Harrison has thrown in some medical terminology, which, as a fan of anatomy, I just love. Harrison also added some more ridiculous elements of extremely large handguns with calibers of .50 and 0.75 inches, which are ALL recoilless, the author must note. Other elements of science fiction include some ideas about traffic control, Mach 5 air transport and life on a Reef in Jupiter.

If you're looking for a fast-paced requiring very little brain power and a few annoyance (i.e. the ending), then look no further than The Jupiter Legacy. Crichton's The Andromeda Strain, while different in format, was actually a better read. This book, however, is going back to the second-hand books store.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

1992: Benefactors 2 - Anvil of Stars (Bear, Greg)

A structural antithesis to The Forge of God (4/5)

Anvil of Stars is the second of two books in the Benefactor duology and is written differently in many ways that its precursor The Forge of God. Almost bordering on being an antithesis of the prior novel, Anvil of Stars exhibits Bear's skill at not only building up wondrous technologies, but also structuring a future human society, a new branch of mathematics, and an ingenious alien species. But honestly, it's the technology that steals the show--technologies stemming from those in Forge of God--and drives the reader into second guessing the capabilities of the Benefactors and the Killers.

Rear cover synopsis:
"82 young people travel the enormity of space on a quest for war and vengeance against The Planet Eaters: aliens who turned into earth--and all but a fragment of humanity--into a smouldering cinder. But how do you conduct war against aliens whose psychology is unknowable, whose technological brilliance means they can disguise whole planetary systems? ANVIL OF STARS has astonishing power. Its epic voyage is shot through with love, self conflict, the terror of war and the infinite possibilities of the universe. Driven by a godly sense of wonder and using quantum mechanics and particle physics to dazzling effect, this book is quite simply everything you ever wanted SF to be."

Aboard a Ship of the Law, a small slice of humanity--young volunteers around 20 years of age--are amid the stars in search for the Killer's home star so that they may carry out The Law. Hundreds of light-years from their own home star, the young post-human crew of eighty-two are led by the elected "Pan" Martin Spruce (aka Martin Gordon, son of Forge of God's Arthur Gordon) and his second-in-command "Christopher Robin" named Hans Eagle. The democratic leader of the boys--named Lost Boys and dressed in red--and the girls--named Wendys and dressed in blue--is consulted by the Moms, who are extensions of the ship's mind. Acting as social climate gauge, mediator, and war counselor, Martin is a empathetic yet indecisive individual who follows his heart than his gut.

The Dawn Treader's crew's first discovery of the possible home star of the Killers turns out to be in a tri-star system, the first system to be investigated by democratic vote is the Wormwoodstar. When the Dawn Treader splits into two, Martin leads the slower in-system ship while Hans leads the faster out-system ship. Upon the unanimous decision to decimate the uninhabited and undefended planets, the bombship crew begin their attack, only to be subjected to the wrath of impossibly destructive weapons. Martin's lover, Theresa, is among the victims and the crew themselves are forced into cryogenic hibernation.

A decade after the defeat and no day older, Martin awakes among his crew still heartbroken over the loss of his lover. His humility gets the best of his as he resigns from Pan. Hans gets the nod to become the new Pan, but vows to become a war leader and to fully enact The Law; a subtle snub towards the actions and attitudes of Martin. The ship's library once depleted due to the actions around Wormwood, the volume increases with the discovery of another derelict Benefactor ship and exponentially so when the ship merges with another Benefactor alien species--the Brothers, a "colonial intelligence" with braid-like structure. The three libraries display contrasting data regarding the civilization around one of the others stars in the tri-star system--Leviathan.

The braids and the humans enter the system under subterfuge in order to elicit the appropriate response from the suspected Killer-inhabited star. Will the level of technology or the trillions of citizens in the system deter the Ship of the Law from doing The Job? Will Hans be the social glue to meld the crew together or will a human rogue drive them apart, rendering the entire crew unable to enact The Law?

A certain amount of back history should be spelled out, which would be a spoiler for anyone who hasn't read The Forge of God. After earth's destruction and a breeding stock of humanity aboard arks, the people were put into hibernation and woken up more than 500 years later, able to colonize Mars, which the Benefactors had been able to terraform with ice from the missing moon Europa. While in hibernation the humans were improved, altering their brain performance and social habits. The children, too, were improved in hibernation and, while aboard their Ship of the Law, they are able to conceptualize high mathematics which the Moms taught, called Mom's Arithmetic Math or "momerath" for short. Their social structure, too, is freed up with disbanding the sacrament of marriage in favor of casual "slicking" and pair bonding. This social structure is one of the most interesting inclusions in Anvil of Stars: it sets the atmosphere with occasions of harmonious crests and derisive troughs.

Unlike The Forge of God (written in nine parts with 74 chapters), Anvil of Stars is simply written in three parts without any chapter divisions. This is only ONE of the great differences between the two. Many of the 82 crew aboard the Dawn Treader are named throughout the book, but only a dozen or so play a major role in the plot's development. Later in the book with the introduction of the braided aliens, a handful of aliens will also play roles in shifting the plot along its fateful route. This differs from The Forge of God where a very large cast played numerous roles through a long passage of time, displaying emotions which reflect the urgency of the tide of ebb of circumstances which surround them. Anvil of Stars doesn't shift perspective nearly as much as its precursor did.

I said above that the technologies shadow mostly everything else in Anvil of Stars. This has its pros and cons. The reader is introduced to the Benefactors' capabilities in the first battle, but the crew are always skeptical about the Moms' divulging of the complete and honest truth: the history of the Benefactors, other missions to the same star, other weapons that could be made, other alien species, etc. Their distrust grows when they assume the mass of information from the library of the braids. They begin to wonder if the Benefactors trust the braids more than humans: that trust being judged on the amount of information they were given. However, the Moms keep mum about the divvying of data and recite their mantra of, "We provide the tools. You use them." (70) This distrust drives an ethical stake between themselves, their alien Brothers, and even with the Benefactors. Could Bear being pressing this issue for the sake of good literary drama, or expressing the characters' emotions to bring out their truly human side?

One thing that stuck with me for six years, after reading this for the first time, is Bear's creation of the alien species known was the Brothers. These intelligent aggregate aliens are braid-like in structure, composed of unintelligent cords, communicate with a cornucopia of scents and an aural sounds like stringed instruments. They are able to produce human language through this "stringed instrument" means and are altogether just as curious about the one-bodied humans as the humans are about the aggregate braids. The level of violence humans are capable of through their works of fiction astonishes the peace-loving braids, whose component cords are the ones to breed, relax, and war. When actual violence is experiences aboard the merged ships, the braids become leery of an extended campaign with their human Brothers. Being a "colonial intelligence," their system of math is based on fractions and probability rather than decimals and whole numbers. The "smears" which are prevalent in their math wows some of the mathematical minds among the humans and allows for a pathway to mutual trust and intercultural development.

Of minor issue but of major annoyance is the number of misspellings in my edition of Anvil of Stars (Legend, 1993). I only started counting after the first few misspellings, but here is a sample of the mistakes I came across: gong (going), trogan (trojan), millin (million), and form (from). Authors' mistake or publisher's mistake, it's frustrating for the reader to come across these errors when they SHOULD have been easily picked up by any reputable proofreader.

Regardless of the minor typographical errors, Anvil of Stars is a abrupt shift for a sequel from The Forge of God. It's not a bad shift; merely a shift which is both jarring and intriguing. I believe Bear once had plans to produce a trilogy of sorts (a seem to have a memory of that, but I could be wrong) set in the same universe, but considering that Anvil of Stars was published twenty years ago, I'd say that the follow-up novel will never come to light. However, with that said, I'd love to see how Greg Bear could envision his future Martian and Venusian post-human colonies... instead, he's sold-out and now writes novelizations for the Halo game universe.

2008: City at the End of Time (Bear, Greg)

Bear's worst sci-fi: bleak, repetitive, boring (2/5)
April 30, 2010

Having read fifteen of Bear's science fiction novels and two of his own short story collections, I considered myself very well versed in the books which Bear produced. Everything I read up to Darwin's Children was inventive and usually quite good (though Psychlone and Beyond Heaven's River didn't rank very highly). When Bear wrote Darwin's Children, the sequel to Darwin's Radio, it felt like Bear was taking a shot at the mainstream market, like Crichton does with his brand of science fiction. Sure enough, the next three novels were Deadlines, Vitals, and Quantico... all of which I passed up because they weren't written with the same awe and wonder as Eon, Eternity or even Hegira. When I heard that Bear was penning a new science fiction novel, it immediately went on my to-buy list.

Rear cover synopsis:
"In a time like the present, in a world that may or may not be our own, three young people–Ginny, Jack, and Daniel–dream of a decadent, doomed city of the distant future: the Kalpa. But more than dreams link these three: They are fate-shifters, born with the ability to skip across the surface of the fifth dimension, inhabiting alternate versions of themselves. And each guards an object whose origin and purpose are unknown: gnarled, stony artifacts called sum-runners that persist unchanged through all versions of time. Hunted by others with similar powers who seek the sum-runners on behalf of a terrifying, goddess-like entity known as the Chalk Princess, Ginny, Jack, and Daniel are drawn into an all but hopeless mission to rescue the future–and complete the greatest achievement in human history."

The City at the End of Time is NOT written in Bear's grand science fiction tradition as The Forge of God, Blood Music or Moving Mars. Sadly, Bear has taken it to himself to continue to pursue a more mainstream market, only this time his intended target is young adults. This book isn't exactly for the serious science fiction reader unless you like magic stones, enchanted books, and mysterious cats, which sounds more like a Fritz Leiber's fun novel Gather, Darkness than it does a Gear Bear sci-fi novel. It meanders and skips its way too far into the boring realm of fantasy than it does march up to the comforting fortress walls of science fiction.

I just can't wrap my head around what Bear was aiming for, usually never a problem for a 100-books-per-year reader like me. Bear pours too many proper nouns for deities or beings or people or places which are given very little description or purpose (e.g. Chalk Princess, the Librarian, the Mistress, the Great Door, City Prince, the Bleak Warden). Nearly every page the reader is confronted by any number of these proper nouns for which the reader has very little to relate to what their actually reading and trying to understand... does that sound right? Putting a name with a developed character (which Bear did a decent job of) is one way to associate with that character, but why did Bear name the three young "fate-shifters" after alcohol? There's Jack, Daniel and Ginny; mere oversight, maybe.

Along with the endless stream of random proper nouns, there seems to be a theme of repetition which only goes to annoy me rather than plant any firm idea into my skull. Throughout the novel the characters "shiver" about ten times (something which I've noted in other novels as well- too much shivering) and the bleak descriptions of the Chaos are the same for hundreds of pages- black or gray, crusty or brittle, hilly or flat. I'm not sure location in the novel is more bleak- that of Seattle or that of the Chaos. Either way, this novel isn't one to lift your spirits nor would it make a good beach read.

A glossary or appendix would have assisted in understanding the finer points of the novel, but polish it all you like it won't become a better novel. I may just reread some of the older Bear novels to renew my faith in him as one of the great science fiction writers of the 80s and 90s... but no later (besides Bear's latest novel Hull Zero Three, which was fantastic).

Thursday, April 19, 2012

1987: Benefactors 1 - The Forge of God (Bear, Greg)

Wonderfully complex and utterly absorbing (5/5)

The Forge of God was the first science fiction novel I read back in 2006. It was the beginning of a beautiful marriage! I continued with Bear's The Way series, Niven & Pournelle's Footfall and Lucifer's Hammer, Strieber & Kunetka's Warday, and the Hitchhikers Guide series. I started off my sci-fi marriage with 1980s science fiction and I constantly look back on that year with longing nostalgia. Thereafter, until April 2012, I started to only read novels I've never read before... so after five years, I return to The Forge of God to splash in the warm tide pools of sci-fi nostalgia. It's just as good as I remember!

Rear cover synopsis:
"June 26, 1996: One of Jupiter's moons disappears.

September 28, 1996: A geologist near Death Valley finds a mysterious new cinder cone in a very-well mapped area.

October 1, 1996: The government of Australia announces the discovery of an enormous granite mountain. Like the cinder cone, it wasn't there six months ago..."

Jupiter's moon Europa has disappeared and, frankly, all the scientists are baffled, especially family man Arthur Gordon. But with time, the news dies down and another story springs onto the channels: in Australia, the discovery of a giant granite mountain and its robot envoys has swept the world. Meanwhile in America, geologists come across a cinder cone and nearby lies a is dying dinosaur like alien with a message of dire warning. This message contrast the benevolent greetings and exchange of information the Australian robots are involved in. Arthur is wrangled into the US government project by his leukemia-stricken friend Harry. The two assist the government in interrogating the oddly-composed alien and the geologists who found it.

All is not well when the alien dies and robots blunder. Huge spikes of ice are heading straight for Mars and Venus, a passing gravity anomaly has scientists confused, and the sudden presence of covert metallic spiders has some people acting funny. Reuben is one such person, who becomes under the influence of the spiders and follows its commands, but to what end Reuben and the others do not know.

The Forge of God has a seemingly endless line of discoveries and it's nearly impossible to write a synopsis in only a few paragraphs. The mystery of the missing moon is compounded, but not explained until the end, with more and more mysteries which taken on different forms. The scientists are confused, the country is confused, the world is confused--this leaves the reader with a massive connect-the-dot puzzle with which to draw your own picture. Even reading this book six years later, I couldn't piece it all together and eventually found myself way off tangent... the plethora of possibilities Bear has constructed in this book is massive.

But it's just not about the end of the world or the alien invasion. These topics have been nearly run into the ground prior to 1987 (with a welcome resurgence of apocalyptic novels of recent), so Bear does three things which I found very clever:

(1) ...the endless amount of reader speculation brought upon by alien subterfuge. Most novels would simply take a linear shot at the plot, involving the a handful of twists and a half dozen characters with a predictable trope and call it a novel. Bear has the reader backtracking time and time again to remember how all the pieces fall into place; each new discovery has the reader fitting the new piece into their mental construction of what Bear is trying to accomplish.

(2) ...the inclusion of a rather mundane, unimportant cast. The geologists who discover the cinder cone and the alien become under government quarantine. Their personal struggles with isolation is captured, as is their coping with life after their release. But the best part of this inclusion is their salt-of-the-earth demeanor, their bond of friendship, and how they each react to the news of the end of the world and the actual end itself.

(3) ...the abundance of characters used. Blessedly, I read this book in less than three days so I wasn't overwhelmed with the resurfacing of the random cast throughout... but a "dramatic personae" would have been helpful with science fiction authors (tipping the hat to Niven), scientists, government bureaucrats, children, townspeople, cultists, and average Joes. It's a dynamic presentation with the leading cast highlighting Bear's ability to characterize human being on the pages.

Lastly, there are 74 chapters plus in intro and an outro, which are headed under nine headings. These headings are in Latin and, being no Latin scholar, I had to search for the translation, but the form seems to be a requiem for the dying earth. A nice addition but totally lost on me until I Googled each heading. The conclusion sent shivers up my spine when I first read it and the same sensation was felt when I read it again. It's a haunting read when you know there's a sequel: Anvil of Stars.  

1990: Heads (Bear, Greg)

Chilly Lunar politics amidst a cryogenic quest (4/5)
From December 13, 2010

Having read ALL (I repeat, ALL) of Bear's science fiction library to date, Heads is the last book which I have gotten a hold of. Though published in 1990, it has a certain nostalgic theme of 1970s cryogenics (like lasers and elementals in Psyclone [1978]) and a very progressive plot drive (like Blood Music [1985]). Prior to 1990, Bear produced great early space opera with The Forge of God (1987) and two books of The Way series: Eon (1985) and Eternity (1988). With all the far-flung science fiction being flown around the pages of his novels, I can easily see Bear writing some retro sci-fi when he published Heads in 1990, soon after releasing some operatic science fiction; hence coming to a more central modern-ish science theme.

Rear cover synopsis:
" Absolute zero. The universal ultimate. No one has ever found it. Yet two hundred years in the future, among the families making up the population of the Moon, William Pierce is almost there... In the dark void of the Ice Pit the frozen Heads are ready to yield their secrets... In the Quiet..."

In the year 2010, post-Boolean three-state logic technology ushers in further quantum logic technology in the seventh decade, which allows the scientists of the lunar Sandoval-Rice communal consortium in the year 2174, or so, to comprehend the data coming from the absolute zero experiment. This collective scientific refrigeration allows for another family member the constitutional right to allow a shipment of "corpsicles" (or frozen heads) to be shipped back to the lunar colony. From this shipment are the heads of the two founding parents of the colony- the current day great-grandmother and father. This acquisition of frozen skulls, including three unknowns, which might be able to be read with other technologies held my other lunar families, stirs up the fury of a religious lunar colony. Thus begins the political debate and silent battle which will embroil the best minds on the moon.

Heads starts with a bang, roping in the reader with Triple politics (Mars, Luna and Earth), the quest for absolute zero and the acquisition of the cryogenic heads. The initial one-sixth of the book is a solid lead-in to a prospective greater scope of things to come. However, much of this lead-up is lent to the bubbling cauldron of changing Lunar politics, where "politics aside" takes precedence in lunar communal relations. "Politics aside" does not, paradoxically, take priority in this book. The Triple politics takes up a fair chunk of the remaining five-sixths of a plot but the ramifications of the outcome are substantial to the Lunar communal families. The recently-founded religion of Logologists and early-founder K.D. Tierry takes a number of anti-religious hits from the scientific Sandoval-Rice collective, taking one-on-one the religious Task-Felder collective. It gets a fair bit testy at times, especially when the held beliefs are at serious stake. The book reads much like this paragraph: laden with scientific processes, scientific labels, acronyms, and come-and-go characters.

It is a fairly short read being a 110-page novella, but it is well worth the read for a Bear fan. The general feel of the book is obviously pro-science and anti-religion. There is also  an obvious underlaying foundation of foreshadowing two-thirds of the way through, which any experienced reader can grasp when characters are forced to act this way or forced to coerce in order to escape.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

2003: Veniss Underground (VanderMeer, Jeff)

Myth, horror, and sci-fi in an intricate dance (4/5)

Written in three movements, the three perspectives in Veniss Underground are steeped in textural myth and literary history. As neither a myth historian or literary historian, most of these connotations were only superficially sensed. Veniss Underground has been compared to Dante's Divine Comedy (for its hellish descent into the city's netherworld), Greek mythology's Orpheus and Eurydice (again, for its hellish portrayal), and the Dutch painter Heirontmus Bosch (for its dark portrait of life in a dystopia alá The Hermit Saints Triptych)--all suggested by Publishers Weekly.

Myth? Horror? Science Fiction? Much like the tag of "speculative fiction" or "bizarro-fiction," the amalgamation of each genre's ambiance is brought to the surface in Veniss Underground: the mythical stories of the descent into hell, the horror of somatic pain in the existence of abject poverty, and the science fiction import of future dystopia and reality as illusion. These three heavenly bodies pull of genre and push each other in a dance of literary gravity, a three-bodied system of balance and finesse. where no body exerts more force than any other.


Part I: Nicholas - 4/5 - Nicholas is robbed of his ceramics and holo art, which leaves him in despair pondering life underground in the garbage of humanity's garbage. One last idea of some sort of personal salvation, Nicholas wants access to Quin's Shanghai Circus through is friend Shadrach. Shadrach, who was once in a relationship with Nicholas' twin sister, Quin "raised him from the dead" after the break-up. Nicholas seeks to get himself a meerkat from "the Livliest Artist" of them all--the creator of new organic species, the regeneration of species long dead, and the melder of the organic. "Working for an artist" of Quin's proportion may be as undefined as the shape and function of his organic avatar of flesh and circus. (16 pages) ----- A fairly short story but laden with terminology and mysteries that can only be and explained revealed upon the completion of Parts I and II. The nuances of the story are flourish when the other stories are read, which turns a confusing 3-star story into a more fulfilling 4-star story upon reflection.

Part II: Nicola - 4/5 - Nicola, twin sister of the recently missing Nicholas, visits her brother's apartment for clues as to his whereabouts. One scrap of paper reveals his obsession with the Livliest Artist, Quin. Nicola contacts her ex-boyfriend and friend of Nicholas, Shadrach, who radiates guilt and brushes off her request for information. Soon after their meeting, Nicola receives a meerkat for a servant, who tends to cook excellent fiddler crab for dinner. Given that the meerkat is the work of the infamous Quin, Nicola trusts the critter very little but also can not resist the urge to follow it as it leaves her flat every morning. (57 pages) ----- Annoying written in a second-person past-tense narrative format, the significance the style ONLY becomes clear half-way through Part III. It definitely takes some adjustment to... but just when you think that the writing style in Part II is just part of the artistic license, the focus is pulled to full detail in Part III and the reader is gifted full insight, forever relieving. Nicola's experience reminds me of Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and Reynolds' Chasm City--a creepy and cryptic combination which favors multi-layered mysteries over th clear and obvious. One possibly idiosyncratic addition to Part II is the narrator's use of alliteration: familiar furry, silently surveys, glint and glitter, row of doors down the corridor, ache of atoms.

Part III: Shadrach - Shadrach still works for Quin but grudgingly accepts the assignments given to him, until his ex-lover Nicola disappears and her eyeballs end up staring back at him from the passive face of a geriatric celebutante. Shadrach returns to Nicola's flat and discovers the hiding servant meerkat in the closet. In order to assist him in descending the rancid depths of the underground, he cuts off the meerkat's head, glues it to a plate, and places it in his inner pocket. With this inside information, Shadrach descends to the organ replacement junk yard seeking Nicola... but he'll have to descend to the 10th level and lower if he plans to seek revenge against the immoral kingpin. (119 pages) ----- The complacent grit in the city alone gives way to evolutions of horror through the levels of the underground; rather than horrific, the events witnessed are ones of abject poverty, bottom of the barrel existence, and the amoral, unnatural existence of creatures from a madman's mind. The chasm of inhumanity is contrasted by the witticisms between the decapitated meerkat and the dedicatedly driven Shadrach. The tiers of corporeal amorality through the descent of the underground is in perfect opposition to Roshwald's descending sterility in Level 7. It also has the odd feeling of Super Mario Bros. and most Nintendo games of the era, where the protagonist/adventurer/hero passes level after level to the conclusive fateful meeting with the "end boss" or "final boss."

2000: Punktown (Thomas, Jeffrey)

Sci-fi, prose, and horror wrapped in imagination (4/5)
From June 7, 2009

Jeffrey Thomas explores his Punktown universe in this collection of 18 short stories. Punktown (officially know as Paxton) is a city on the planet of Oasis which is inhabited by indigenous aliens, humans and a slew of other alien races (some human-like and others... not so much). The entire collection isn't horrific enough for me to able to label in the "horror" genre; rather it's more of a science fiction novel which would comfortably fit the mixed genre of sci-fi/horror. These two essential elements are presented in each story. There's also a fair bit a prose and word usage which keeps the reader endeared amidst the horror--all snug in the wealth of imagination.

This resplendent rare cross-genre extravaganza can be witnessed in Jeremy Robert Johnson's collection Angel Dust Apocalypse, which slants more towards corporeal horror but leans on the gritty underpinnings of a future dystopia. Call it "bizarro-" or "weirdo-" fiction, but the tags applied to these collections detract from the surreal niche in which they fill... an effervescent niche inhabited by the writings of China Miéville of Perdido Street Station) and Haruki Murakami of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.


The Reflections of Ghosts - 4/5: Drew makes clones for customers, which happen to be mangled versions of himself, so that they could do whatever they please to the helpless copies. He makes a female clone for a wealthy customer who he can mistakenly relate to on a basic level and finds himself in a dilemma. 15 pages

Pink Pills - 4/5: Marisol finds she has a type of tumor named Orb Weaver's Tumor, which is growing from a lump in her jaw. At the alien physician's office, a technician befriends her who could also provide a truth to her lingering suspicions of a rumor. 12 pages

The Flaying Season - 4/5: Kohl has an interest in reviving her erased memories of two traumatic episodes. Could her sister refresh her memory? Could the doctor reload her memories into her brain? Or could a coffee shop customer be a link to her past? 10 pages

Union Dick - 3/5: Yolk is a Union representative and veteran from the Union Wars. His job is to ensure that factories have enough active human employees to work in tandem with their robotic counterparts. One company, though, takes advantage of a loophole in the rule which angers Yolk's dedication to preventing degradation. 11 pages

Wakizashi - 3/5: Officer Soko must assist alien diplomat in its religious purification, even though it will be a horrible death for whoever agrees to be the victim. 14 pages

Dissecting the Soul - 3/5: Maddie is a pathologist who is retrieving the memories of a recently executed murderer. During her retrieval she reviews some events which made the man the monster he became. 6 pages

Precious Metal - 5/5: A robotic jazz band is gunned down inside a club as gangster Grey watches. His clan may be to blame but how does the boss Ng justify this assassination? 10 pages

Sisters of No Mercy - 3/5: A group of women view an act of initiation as the member-to-be Ayn dismembers her victim. With Ayn's further act of dismemberment upon the male race, how will her zealousness be viewed in the eyes of her fellow sisters? 6 pages

Heart for Heart's Sake - 2/5: Impoverished artist Teal and his girlfriend Nimbus are confronted by the power company for stealing electricity and need to come up with money. Thankfully, at his art exhibit a wealthy man purchases his massive artwork... but also comes with its performing beauty, Nimbus. Will this sacrifice help or hinder their relationship? 19 pages

The Ballad of Moosecock Lip - 3/5: Dazey and Brine are drug makers and dealers. They bring a mysterious girl into their circle who then falls victim to the addiction and her life falls apart. Dazey and Brine decide to save her they only way they know how. 6 pages

Face - 4/5: Declan mourns the loss of his mutant son Ian as he revisits the Christmas decorated sewer-mall they had visited in the summer before Ian's death. Declan faces guilt, envy and love yet cannot cope with his loss. 8 pages

The Pressman - 5/5: Manny is a pressman at a printer who works with the new insubordinate yet creative robotic pressman. The mantis-like machine makes Manny seethe with hate and the machine's attitude doesn't help any. 4 pages

The Palace of Nothingness - 4/5: Titus is a Properties Investigator for a real estate company. When reviewing a section of the city, he sees a building, if it is a building, which has been under change decade after decade, yet there is no official mention of its function. Titus takes it upon himself to explore its innards and innateness. 9 pages

The Rusted Gates of Heaven - 2/5: Mendeni visits the Bellakee's estate to see a relic which he had picked up on satellite. The invitation turns into a further unexpected invite and ends with yet another invite, each more provocative than the last. 4 pages

Immolation - 4/5: The non-union Plant worker clone Magnesium Jones escapes to fulfill an assassination contract. This hit is being paid by Plant union employee Parr and the target is the union boss. What are Parr's intentions and the 5-years-out-of-the-tank clone Jones can trusted? 16 pages

Unlimited Daylight - 5/5: Anoushka explores the city to visit book stores and takes lunch at an Indian restaurant in a Choom town. She spies a goggled man there and finds him again in his own bookstore. They befriend each other and talk about each other's language and genres. 15 pages

The Library of Sorrows - 3/5: MacDiaz is the detective of the grisly multiple-murder scene. His memories of this and other murder scenes haunt him, as he has a memory chip installed. His delusional mother has been placed in drawer where she'll stay until she dies. Is the chip more of a blessing than it is a curse? 13 pages

Nom de Guerre - 5/5: A quartet of human assassins meet with a quartet of Vlessi assassins, an alien race shrouded in mystery (rumored to be interdimensional beings, doppelgangers and vampires). Their opposing pharmaceutical company clients have faced them off against each other. Will the rumors be unveiled? 18 pages

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

1963: Monkey Planet (Boulle, Pierre)

Dry language with a twist of thought (4/5)

Monkey Planet was later named Planet of the Apes to coincide with the release in the cinema. The two titles are of the same book, but the movie named Planet of the Apes is not the same as the book. I'm no general movie aficionado or even a science fiction movie connoisseur, but the 1968 Planet of the Apes film borders on silly and the sequels are just obnoxious. The 2011 reboot of Planet of the Apes adds to the history behind the novel of Monkey Planet... an interesting history only glanced over within the novel but with big implications.

Rear cover synopsis:
"What if monkeys were the master race? Caging your wife, hunting and killing your brothers and sisters for sport? Exhibiting you naked behind a zoo-notice: Homo Pseudo Sapians--stupid but not dangerous--may bite... and generally treating you like the animal you are? Such is the terrifying ordeal of the man in this book. It will startle you into some viciously thought-provoking questions about your place in the world. Believe us?"

Jinn and Phyllis are having a nice cosmic solar sail trip together. Away from their peers and entranced by each other's love, their trip is abruptly disturbed by an oncoming message in a bottle... literally, pieces of paper in a glass bottle sealed by cork and wax. Within the bottle is a story about Ulysse Mérou:

Ulysse is aboard a French spacecraft which leaves earth in the 2500 to undergo a 2-year subjective (350-year Earth time) mission to survey the system of Betelgeuse. Descending and frolicking upon the earth-like planet, the crew discover human inhabitants, named as the day they were born and just as dumb. The human natives abhor the crew's want of clothing, their smiling grins, their staring eyes, and their materialistic shuttle craft. With the craft destroyed, the crew go native with the native humans.

Ulysse and his idiot lover named Nova are captured by marauding gorillas and taken to a laboratory filled with cages. Afraid to reveal his true self, Ulysse begins to willingly exhibit signs of cleverness, which attracts the attention of department head Zira, a chimpanzee. When more intelligence tests are run, Ulysse is the only human smart enough to complete even the simplest of tasks. Eventually, Zira befriends Ulysse and he begins to learn their language, culture, and history. However, not everyone is convinced of the human's intelligence, such are the stubborn minds of the orangutans.

Zira and her finance Cornelius concoct a scheme with Ulysse, where as he is to reveal himself to the scientific community while the stubborn Zaius is up on the dias with him. His intelligence shown to the world of Soror, Ulyssee is able to enjoy life outside of his cage, now clothed like a common ape. But his partner Nova is still in her cage and now pregnant with his child, something which the gorillas and orangutans find very inconvenient.

I would love to have said that I read this book its native language, but I don't understand much French. While written in 1963, the book was translated into English in 1964 by Secker & Warburg. Exactly where the language faultiness lies, in the native French or the translated English, I do not know, but the language feels very dated for 1964 and especially so for 2012. Alas, hullabaloo, and hubbub among the words that often used in sentences such as: "[...] a terrifying hubbabaloo made us start up in alarm." (38) and "Without paying much attention to this hubbub [...]" (46) Then there's the old as time interjection: "Quite the contrary!" (35)

Taken with some proper grammar book sounding sentences which border on archaic, the language has a weird vibe to it, considering that the book is written as a narrative with much excitement always surrounding the protagonist: "We thus reached the region from which the shots had been heard." (40) and "I supported him in his suggestion, which eventually prevailed." (28) The wording is often as formulaic as this, which leads to passages that feel dryly scientific or lacking any sort of reflective emotion on Ulysse's part.

The narrative may be this way (1) because Ulysse's professional demeanor, as his career is as a journalist; the objective truth simply laid onto the pages for a fictional account. (2) It may be partly because of a pet notion I've been pondering since the completion of the book: it was written by a orangutan as a piece of fiction, where the story is a rehashed fictional piece but lacks the emotional narration which defines literary creativity, something which orangutans in The Monkey Planet have a difficult time mustering up.

With the pet theory behind, there are other subversions perpetrated by the author when it comes to the semi-predictable conclusion. I think Pierre Boulle was clever enough to be able to pen a seemingly simple book about (1) the simian atrocities to man in light of human atrocities to monkeys, (2) awareness of the diversity of what define as intelligence, or (3) self-imposed limitations on our nature of trust, forgiveness, and justice. If this were the case, then this passage would be the central message: "Ah, what matters this horrid material exterior! It is her soul [Zira's] that communes with mine [Ulysse's]." (169)

1961: Solaris (Lem, Stanislaw)

Emotional camouflage contrasts planetary revelations (4/5)
From April 19, 2010

This is the first Lem novel I've read, but I unfortunately own the movie tie-in with a smooching George Clooney plastered on the cover. Repressing the irksome rays of lust emitting from the cover, I dove into a novel which I had read to be much loved by science fiction enthusiasts. In lieu of Clooney cover, I place the more appreciable 1976 Berkley edition.

Solaris is one of those atmospheric novels which doesn't apply its readership to the mainstream. It's heavy with descriptive paragraphs and notational dialogue than it is on action sequences and spoken revelations. It's such a novel where the reader must pick up the nuances of the words and relationships to truly grasp the impact of the entire novel. If you're not sure what I mean, consider two unconnected movies and whether you can relate to them one way or another through their use of ambiance: Lost in Translation and Napoleon Dynamite. Both are sparse on dialogue but heavy on use of atmosphere to bring the reader/watcher in tune with the characters. In the same line, Solaris is a novel of nebulous activity where characters are at the mercy of the greater scheme of things.

Rear cover synopsis:
"When psychologist Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the coean that covers its surface, he finds himself confronting a painful memory embodied in the physical likeness of a past lover. Kelvin learns that he is not alone in this, and that other crews examining the planet are plagued with their own repressed and newly real memories. Could it be, as Solaris scientists speculate, that the ocean may be a massive neural center creating these memories, for a reason no one can identify?"

Lem's detailed descriptions of the planetary formations of Solaris are breathtaking and imaginative but occasionally drag on with imagery which is difficult to come to terms with in explanations of shape, size or even color. His views of environmental consciousness and its effect on human manipulation is one of unique insight considering its date of release- 1961. Thereafter, a number of novels have taken a similar approach in planetary awareness and living oceans: Asimov's 1989 Nemesis and Reynolds' 2000 Revelation Space among the two. The relationship of experimentation borders on diabolical--humans bombard the ocean with x-ray beams while the same offers up so-called human-like hallucinations to the scientists. The experimental effect to the ocean remains unknown to the crew but the Solaris-to-human emotional mirage has forever changed them with the new lifelike hallucinations of once known companions.

It's quite a gripping look at how a planet struggles to understand what it is to be human while the humans themselves face their own monsters. However, the occasional chapter is full of lengthy descriptions which siphon away the rich ambiance already established. The gaze outward to the planet isn't as fulfilling as the gaze inward into the minds of Solaris and Man. The strength in the novel lies internally, where you must finger through the gradual enlightening shades of emotional camouflage (as contradictory as that may sound, Lem writes it like no other).

Though not as popular as Solaris, I've managed to find two additional copies of Lem's work at a second-hand library book sale here in Bangkok: The Cyberiad (1965) and The Star Diaries (1971). I'm eager to find more, but the second-hand shelves don't abide by my suggestions.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

1986: Mirrorshades- The Cyberpunk Anthology (Sterling, Bruce)

1980s stories with diverse themes and tangents (3/5)

Call is noir, call is new wave... this is Cyberpunk because that's what it says on the cover! I guess I have some misconceptions about what cyberpunk exactly entails... my first thoughts are of Johnny Mnemonic, but with the cornucopia of stories found in this anthology, themes of time travel and gothic cathedrals can sit side-to-side with drugs, rock and roll, and computerization. If you have the same misconceptions as I have regarding Cyberpunk, then you'll be in for a disappointment.

The Gernsback Continuum (1981) by William Gibson - 4/5 - An architectural photographer is hired to snap pictures of derelict Californian gas station. On his trip to the west, he experiences time-era specific hallucinations on mono-winged luxury planes, metallic shark-finned cars, and sterilely-clad perfect American couples. (11 pages) ----- The dawn of the age of science fiction (alá early sci-fi publisher Hugo Gernsback) was more than a birthing of a new genre of fiction, but also an American affection for the future. The result of the futuristic projections onto everyday objects was the production of a series a sterile-looking and backward-functioning contraptions; hence the 1980s era exhibiting none of these technophilia creations. Fast-forward 30 years from the date of this stories publication through the sci-fi era of Cyberpunk and witness the growth of society's affection for digital technology. Can the two eras' scientific visionary be comparable? When the human-machine interface becomes a reality, we'll know if Cyberpunk technology was careless or crafty.

Snake-Eyes (1986) by Tom Maddox - 4/5 - George was trained as a cerebrally wired jet fighter for the war in Thailand, but has been pulled out at the last minute. His metallic connections through his human brain pierce the underlayers of his mammalian brain and reptilian brain. When the reptilian brain is in charge, his hunger for food becomes untamed. Seeking a solution for a symbiosis with the machinery within him, George travels to an orbital which is home to Aleph, a multi-sensory artificial intelligence, which aims to subsume the human sensory suite. (22 pages) ----- The Cyberpunk obsession with being "wired in" is, at times, repetitively annoying. The characters that are wired in tend to simply interface with a computer while exchanging data at the peril of other hackers on the loose. But this sort of external danger isn't as perilous as the internal dangers Maddox writes about. The over-riding theme of Snake-Eyes is our lack of ability to control the evolutionary parts of our brain and how these same parts can be hijacked by an influencing force. The intrusive nature of the attack is commonplace in Cyberpunk, but the internal influence to this intrusiveness is what sets it apart from much of the sub-genre.

Rock On (1984) by Pat Cadigan - 2/5 - Gina is a runaway "sinner" for the big time rock band Man-O-War. When the small time Misbegottens get a hold of Gina, they plug her in to experience the organizational rock she synthesizes. At the ripe age of forty, Gina wants out of the synthesizing altogether. (8 pages) ----- What's supposed to have a punk feel to it, Rock On comes off feeling more like grunge, which sprung to regional fame a few years later. I don't see rock or punk music as an attribute to Cyberpunk, but when listeners socket into the music which is produced from a human synthesizer who sockets in to produce the music, then both sides of music production takes on the distinctive Cyberpunk feel. Music aside, the story also has a very loose writing style to it, sort of like grunge fashion--slapped together and baggy. Where most Cyberpunk offers an awing element to the digital divide, Pat Cadigan misses the point of highlighting and expounding upon humanity's place in the digitization of their culture and their being--too short for its own good.

Tales of Houdini (1983) by Rudy Rucker - 2/5 - Houdini is kidnapped by a rabbi, a priest, and a judge before being put to an escapist attempt by falling from a plane while being wrapped in Ace bandages. Of course he lives... to only be kidnapped again, and again. True to Houdini form, he escapes and worries his mother. (7 pages) ----- Not sure how this is Cyberpunk at all, but I guess the looseness of Cadigan's writing style can be stretched to encompass the looseness of Rucker's short story theme. Rucker, too, is guilty of shooting from the hip with his grungy writing--snippy, odd, and wandering. Bruce Sterling described this story as "brief but perfectly constructed fantasy" and yes, it is brief... thankfully.

400 Boys (1983) by Marc Laidlaw - 1/5 - Hidden in a basement, a group of boys are sheltered from the rampage of destruction the giants are throwing in the bloc above. Once free of their reign of terror, the group seeks other groups in the city to challenge the tyranny of the four hundred giant boys. (16 pages) ----- Taking the term "noir" to the next level, how exactly this is cyberpunk is beyond me. If Cyberpunk acts an umbrella title for weird fiction, then this would fit perfectly, I guess. The gritty city full of gritty groups composed of gritty boys, so while the dark element of cyberpunk is there, the whole "cyber" part of the story is as absent as it was in Rucker's previous story. I've always hated the term "noir" as it's simply a stick that you can wave at any story and, presto!, you have yourself an artistic sub-genre of fiction.

Solstice (1985) by James Patrick Kelly - 3/5 - Tony Cage designs psychotropic and other radical drugs for the international consumer market. After spending a few years in cryogenic suspension, he reunites with his adult female clone self to experience the summer solstice at Stonehenge along her his clone's boyfriend. Cage has plans to expose the boyfriend's ill-intended attention upon his clone by sharing some of his new drug with them, Share. (39 pages) ----- Introducing a gothic theme in parallel with psychopharmacology, Sterling keeps introducing new themes from each story under that wonderfully broad 1980s umbrella theme of Cyberpunk. Somnolent, hallucinogenic, stimulant, or analgesic additives to Cage's cornucopia of specific state drugs adds contrasting or heightening effects to each of his drugs, which have a scientific basis for altering reality, something which the cyberpunk genre is interested in through virtual reality, but not so much drug-induced reality.

Petra (1982) by Greg Bear - 3/5 - The flesh and stone son of a cathedral statue and a nun considers himself to be a historian. The flesh children below are school by the self-proclaimed bishop while the flesh and stone hybrids are given the sanctioned off rafters above. Nimble enough to navigate the numerous crevices and tunnels, the boy knows the cathedral better than most, and is the only one to have met the bridge playing Stone Christ is the basement. (20 pages) ----- Continuing with the obvious gothic theme, Sterling includes Greg Bear into this anthology for posterity, as he was one of the better science fiction writers during the 1980s and this was, oddly, one of his more esoteric and fantasy-like short stories. No computers and no drugs, this story is about life within a cathedral after the night when statues started to come alive... how this is Cyberpunk, I haven't a clue.

Till Human Voices Wake Us (1984) by Lewis Shiner - 3/5 - Campbell is diving with his wife of 18 years near an isolated island owned by a global company. He witnesses what he thinks is a mermaid, snaps a photo, but doesn't mention it to anyone. Later that night, he sees a woman who looks remarkably like the mermaid. When he sends his film for processing, he wonders if the biologist woman has ties to the creature under the sea. (14 pages) ----- A slow, minor mystery with a slight fantasy element turns into a not-so-surprising conclusion with a biology twist... just enough to render it Cyberpunk in the undiscerning eyes of Sterling. This is much more of a mainstream story unbridled to any sub-genre, let alone a break through 1980s sub-genre such as Cyberpunk. Decent, but of minor interest.

Freezone (1985) by John Shirley - 4/5 - Rickenharp's band plays rock music... real, honest to god rock music. It's not a trendy and it's not generally liked, but on the night the band decides to call it quits they also play their last gig... and it rocks. Rickenharp sits on the cusp of idleness and greatness as he spies a luscious chick with a "blue mesc" line. Yearning for the flesh attached to the line, Rickenharp befriends her two male companions who are eager to escape the pursuit of unnamed enemies. (39 pages) ----- THIS is the cyberpunk I was looking for! Combining the flavors of rock music, drug-infused adventure lust, and exotically dressed denizens aboard a floating platform off the coast of Morocco, the infusion is lush but a tad too long. With a collection where stories average 18 pages each, this lengthier 39-paged story feels drawn out, regardless of its perfect composition of cyberpunk elements.

Stone Lives (1985) by Paul Di Filippo - 5/5 - Stone lives in abject poverty in the Bronx Jungle (the Bungle) without sight, after having his eyes ripped from their sockets by organ thieves. He's succumbed to a life of misery and destitution, but a chance encounter with Immigration has his world spun around when he is offered a Rating-1 assignment rather than the lowly Rating-10 assignment which his fellow slum dwellers despondently accept. The promise of a new set of digital eyes with varied capabilities enthuses Stone, who is assigned the task of recording life in situ. (24 pages) ----- Sloughing off the cyberpunk association with gothic and rock themes, Sterling delivers the reader a beauty of a story through the enhanced eyes of a poverty dweller--combining the themes of gritty urban life with biomechanical improvement. Where most cyberpunk stories peripherally include these themes, the author has tightly woven these two threads into a story which not only captures the essence of Cyberpunk, but also sculpts a humanistic character within the confines of a society bent on disassociation and inequality.

Red Star, White Orbit (1983) by Bruce Sterling & William Gibson - 4/5 - Colonel Korolev is the famed Soviet cosmonaut who first walked on Mars but is now aging in the micro-gravity of Soviet orbital; his bones decalcified and his superficial injuries from a blowout layer his skin. His legacy to the space program lines his own walls and his life, as he knows it, is within the orbital. When rumor of the orbital's decommission spring forth, Korolev leads a small resistance against the military's plans. (21 pages) ----- A story which should be a supernova of cyberpunk considered its two authors, but it's actually a simple tale of decommission in space, space weapons, and solar power technology. The additional element of American atmospheric solar balloons is greatly left without detail, something which definitely should have been a major focus.

Mozart in Mirrorshades (1985) by Bruce Sterling & Lewis Shiner - 3/5 - A portal to the 18th century of a parallel earth is established so petrochemicals and works of art can be sent forward in time. Some of the historical citizens, like Mozart and Marie Antoinette, are happy with the newly fangled contraptions, ideas, music, and food of the 20th century, but others, like Thomas Jefferson, are distrust the futurists' meddling in their affairs. (17 pages) ----- I guess if a silly story like Tales of Houdini can be included in a cyberpunk anthology, then why not a time travel story? With time traveling as its only link to the science fiction genre, Mozart in Mirrorshades focuses on how the meddlesome time travelers change the lifestyle of the people residing in the 18th century. It's quirky to see how the characters shrug off their noble ways for the freedoms found in Turkish hash, rock and roll music, mopeds, radios, and color television.

1980: Galaxy- The Best of My Years (Baen, James)

Optimistic essays and opalescent stories (5/5)
From October 18, 2010

Of the twelve headings inside The Best of My Years, there are only seven short stories along with an intro, andoutro, and three essays. Baen himself had said that science fiction at the time of 1980 was at the start of a New Wave of SF. Niven and Varley were spearheading that new wave but still dragged with them the entrails of the sixties and early seventies science fiction aura. The likes of Greg Bear, David Brin, William Gibson, and Niven truly heralded the New Wave era of SF, whether documented across the broader scheme of SF literature or not; it's merely an opinion based on my observations of decadal transitions (60s to 70s to 80s and thereon).

The Best of My Years definitely fits the 70s era of science fiction to a T. With subject matter of cryogenics and Bussard ramjets taking up much of the short story plots and article length, the topics ring true of a large number of the same decade. It's not to the point of saturation but just enough the glaze over the soft fluffy doughnut of the SF during ninth decade of the twentieth century.

Baen: Myth of the Light Barrier (introduction) - 4/5 - A lean, mean stab at what the anthology encompasses and what the editor is driving hard at. 2 pages

Asimov: Is There Hope for the Future (essay) - 4/5 - Has the same resonance of the Foundation series, socialism and utopianism. Like science fiction as a whole, if the future is being written about, the author is optimistic that humankind DOES have a future. Asimov agrees very much so. 21 pages

LeGuin: The Day Before the Revolution (story) - 4/5 - A nearly invalid revolutionary leader relives the days of her love for her mentor while still orchestrating his master plan of worldwide provincial revolt. While not a big fan of LeGuin, I did like the intricate emotion of elderly Laila and the staccato prose of a mind slipping away. 21 pages

Anderson: Out Many Roads to the Stars (essay) - 4/5 - Focusing on effects of near-light speed, Anderson pulls out some equations and tables to emphasize the wow-factor of the attainable interstellar spacecraft. Seeing these relativistic phenomena reaffirms my belief that we currently aren't as tech savvy as we may believe. 21 pages

Pohl & Kornbluth: The Gift of Garigolli (story) - 5/5 - Sentient micro-aliens in a mans body attempt to observe human society through his eyes and even try to repay him for his help, but the exponential size difference is hampering the effort. Always a fan of Pohl cheekier novels, this does not disappoint with an evident passion for silliness and coherent randomness (huh?). 34 pages

Saberhagen: Birthdays (story) - 5/5 - A 13-year old boy wakes one day upon a starship to be told he must be a parent to twenty-four new born children only to be put asleep the same day and to be awoken exactly one year later to parent the babies again. Why this is happening is a mystery to him and the soon to be adults. I've never read anything by Saberhagen before, but this out-of-the-blue story really impressed me takes the cake for best story. 59 pages

Varley: Overdrawn at the Memory Bank (story) - 3/5 - A jumble of school lessons, advertising, book chapters, commands and correspondence finds Fingal confronting his own "What is reality?" which is done better than most of the stories which tackle the same question. I found the story a little fun but I really haven't liked much of the Varley I've read with the exception of his short story Air Raid. 44 pages

Sheffield: The Long Chance (story) - 4/5 - A composer loses his wife to a disease and chooses to cryogenically keep her until the day they can both be reunited and while he can't live with the agony, decides to also freeze himself for the future. Now that he has been awakened millennia in the future, will he be as happy as he thought? A very good stab at the cryogenic story line and probably one of the best corpsicle plots out there. 29 pages

Niven: Down and Out (story) - 4/5 - An earlier version of Rammer (found in World Out of Time), where Corbell escapes earthly The State on his Bussard ramjet towards the galactic center only to find himself eventually hounded the consoled by his once enemy Pierce. A good, typical Niven strewn with comical situations, good science background and a mind treat of a story. 32 pages

Pournelle: That Buck Rogers Stuff (essay) - 3/5 - Pournelle lets the ball roll with what the future may hold for humankind's expansion in the solar system, very optimistic and very well represented in his novel Exiles to Glory. 15 pages

Zelazny: The Game of Dust and Blood (story) - 4/5 - A supernatural game of playing with humankind's history by alternatively changing three events in human record. A fun look a different kind of alternative history story but as I'm not a history buff I couldn't really grasp the full meaning behind Zelazny's choices. 6 pages

Baen: Galaxy and the Galaxy (outro) - 3/5 - A simple reiteration of articles with a sprinkling of other mentions which Baen considered noteworthy and finishing the conclusion off with what Baen's expectations of what future submissions ought to look like. 6 pages

Friday, April 6, 2012

1968: Hawksbill Station (Silverberg, Robert)

Silverberg's BEST... which doesn't say much (3/5)

I've never liked Silverberg.
Regarding his novels:
The Alien Years (1998)... hated it.
The World Inside (1971)... hated it.
Those Who Watch (1967)... hated that, too.

Regarding his short stories:
The Red Blaze is the Morning in the New Legends Anthology (1995)... didn't care for it.
Hot Times in Magma City in the Year's Best SF (1995)... didn't care for it.
The Sixth Palace in Deep Space: 2 (1973)... didn't care for that, either.

So, while I'm able to stomach his short stories to a small degree, I've hated every Silverberg novel I've touched. To say "Hawksbill Station is THE BEST Silverberg ever produced!" is not doing the novel any favors. I've tried to like Silverberg's previous novels and stories, but I always end up disliking them. The same goes for Hawksbill Station... with plenty of praise doused upon it by Joachim Boaz, I was finally stricken with guilt at my distaste for Silverberg so I paid $2.50 for the book and read it. This one is for you, fellow blogger extraordinaire.

Rear cover synopsis:
"Exiled to an unborn Earth. They had fought a life-crushing 21st century dictatorship, and now they were witness to the dawn of life itself. Bitter witnesses. For they were political prisoners, exiled forever behind a billion year-high wall of Time--sent "one way" to the grey slab shorelines of a barren Earth before life had begun its long climb from the sea to the stars. A lifeless world was their prison, and there was no way back. And then one day the stranger came..."

In the solemn year of 1984 when the constitutional crisis ended with the syndicalist capitalists takeover ("McKinley capitalism and Roosevelt socialism" [69]), dissent sprung up in both mild forms and extremist forms. The protagonist Barrett was one of the milder mannered attendees, only attending the meeting to meet the girls. With enough time dedicated to the movement, Barrett eventually dedicated himself to the dissent. When his sleazy tramp-cum-girlfriend is arrested and unheard from in 1994, Barrett continued his mild dissent, albeit at a higher level with more responsibilities, against the undemocratic government until 2006, when he was arrested, detained, and interrogated. His life then on became dedicated not to dissent, but to living life in a barren landscape where only insanity and slow death are the enemies.

In a rather generically scripted future with automatic cars, 3-D television, supersonic air transport, population control, weather control, a Mars colony, and a lunar resort, the famous mathematician named Hawksbill has created a time machine (in operation since 2004). However, this machine is only reported to be a one-way trip... and what better way to use a time machine than to simply send political prisoners a billions years in the past to the late Cambrian era where troglodytes reign the seas and the prisoners can do no harm to the evolutionary ladder:

"The government was too civilized to put men to death for subversive activities, and too cowardly to let them remain alive and at large. The compromise was the living death of Hawksbill Station. A billion years of impassable time was suitable insulation even for the more nihilistic ideas." (36)

Come to the year 2029 and the population of the primordial prison stands at one hundred forty with one-third of the prisoners succumbing to their personal psychoses. Barrett has become the leader of the chronologically desolate gulag, one who organizes men to scout for mis-shipped crates of food and materials. Losing the full mobility of his legs due to an avalanche, Barrett has become more steadfast in his hopes for the Cambrian colony, a desire which supplants his treasonous aim of governmental reform. After a six-month absence of new prisoner arrivals, a stranger arrives at the camp. A self-pronounced economist with little more to say than a simple nod and a notably empty reservoir of knowledge regarding economics and political resistance, little warning signs are piquing the accusatory eye of Barrett.

Hawksbill Station has a very similar theme to Brian Aldiss's Cryptozoic, where Silverberg's was published in 1968, Aldiss's was published in 1967. Silverberg's novella Hawksbill Station was published in August of 1967 while Aldiss's was published in October. Which author was the first to pen the idea of a totalitarian government with time travel to primordial earth (Silverberg = late Cambrian / Aldiss = pre-Cambrian)? There are obvious similarities but also drastic differences.

There are two parts to this story which capture my imagination: the penal servitude in the desolate past (draw comparisons to Dostoevsky's Memoirs from the House of the Dead or Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago) and the form of government Silverberg calls syndicalist capitalism (as a registered Socialist, of course it would interest me). However, neither are described to a great degree and merely serve as a backdrop for the existence of temporally distant political gulag. Exactly WHY this sort of prison is BEST for the prisoners is left untouched (besides the single paragraph explanation above). And the descriptions of the barren lands of the late Cambrian period are glanced over, mentioning some soil here, lots of rock everywhere, and the expansive ocean just over there.

The actual Hawksbill Station plays second fiddle to the tribulations of Barrett. The novel alternates chapters from life at the Station and the rise of Barrett's career as a dissident. His shallow relationship with his girlfriend is a mere footnote of interest, as all female characters in Silverberg novels tend to be. Barrett's almost feigning interest in the revolution doesn't draw him out to be the powerful type, but his ability to handle interrogation, detention, ans sensory deprivation are admirable. Regardless of this, he is still sent back in time to live the remainder of his life on the expansive flats of volcanic rock, a home which he will reign as king over troglodytes and treasonous male revolutionary castaways.

A minor gripe in Hawksbill but my main gripe with the author (but noteworthy because of its recurring nature in everything Silverberg has penned) is his treatment of women as characters... or as cows: things to name and forget about minutes later, or as objects: things to place in the plot as mentions of rape (three times) and breasts (four times) can be wantonly written into the story (to garner interest from teenage boys?), or as a catalyst for excitement: pheromone-laden hussies to give climax to the plot (and conveniently, to the men, too). Call it his spice to every plot or his twist to every story, but it's the main reason I don't willingly read ANY Silverberg. Again, to say that Hawksbill is the BEST thing Silverberg has ever written is to say that everything else he has written in on par with or below a three-star rating, in my opinion.

With my gripe complete and my review of Hawksbill finalized, I can put to rest your (pointing the finger) one hope of turning me into a Silverberg fan. Sorry... but you have to admit that the plot synopsis I provided it quite good!